The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
July 21, 2012 2 Comments
Blamed by the citizens of Gotham for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart – in flashback) eight years previously, Batman has been retired from duty while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) exiles himself in the family manor with only butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) for company. The truth is that Batman is no longer needed, the city’s streets the safest they’ve ever been thanks to the Dent Act, a precursor to peace-time that has left the police growing complacent and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) racked with guilt over the hidden truth behind Dent’s demise. Both are therefore caught off guard by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked monolith who has been rallying an army in the city’s sewers. When Batman is dragged out of retirement by a mysterious cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway), a collision course is set that could spell the end of Gotham once and for all.
I have made little secret of my disdain for Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films (I’m sorry, “The Dark Knight Trilogy”) over the last seven years, duly taking the bait every time someone praised each consecutive film as being perfect, a masterpiece, or the best film, sequel, trilogy ever made. Nolan’s films are no such thing; they’re over-written, self-important and unengaging, The Dark Knight in particular standing as a collection of ideas, principles and allusions rather than a functioning story about recognisable human beings. Unfortunately for me, I don’t go to the cinema for a civics lesson (this week: the class system) or a dissertation on “pain”, I go to be entertained.
As such, I had expected to hate The Dark Knight Rises, and for the first 40 minutes or so that’s almost exactly what I did. An impressive and elaborate opening set piece was all style and no substance, offering up the now-requisite red herring that’s supposed to make us marvel at our antagonist’s keen intellect, before settling back into the usual mould as Bruce Wayne and Alfred wax lyrical about the supposed purpose of “The Batman”, and Commissioner Jim Gordon once again finds himself at logger-heads with the rest of the police force, albeit for new reasons. But then, out of nowhere, something quite extraordinary happens. While Nolan’s alumni conduct their business as usual – the plot left to a boardroom committee of faceless men in suits – Anne Hathaway slinks into view and does the unthinkable: she quips a pun. Out loud. In a Christopher Nolan movie. The cat still has my tongue.
I can almost understand why many might rate this as the most flawed in the series; probably because they’re many of the same reasons that I think it’s the best. While the first two films – theses really – endeavoured to create a Gotham that was gritty and realistic, reimagining the city at will and populating it with only the characters that best fitted this new, revisionist world, the cracks in Nolan’s resolve are finally beginning to show. The Dark Knight Rises makes great leaps of logic, barely clearing plot hole after plot hole as Batman dodges buildings from the cockpit of his very own hovercraft, later fighting off hordes of henchmen alongside a leather-clad vixen in a ridiculous rooftop brawl. After two films spent skulking in the shadows as if ashamed of his iconic costume, his comic book origin, Batman finally steps into the light. And – for the first time since Nolan took on the cowl and cape – it’s actually super.
Selena Kyle (not Catwoman, of course, because that would be silly) is undoubtedly the film’s saving grace. After both Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal failed to connect with audiences as Nolan’s own creation, Rachel Dawes, it’s refreshing to see one of the comic’s most established and enduring female characters slinking through the mean streets of Gotham, proving every bit as capable as the men. As with Heath Ledger before her, Hathaway has overcome great prejudice from the online community to take her place as the most remarkable component of an otherwise unremarkable film. She’s an enticing, full-bodied character with great spin-off potential, and thankfully the complete opposite of Marion Cotillard’s utterly uninteresting Miranda Tate. Or, for that matter, Christian Bale’s hollow billionaire.
With Michael Caine AWOL for most of the movie, Morgan Freeman shut away in the boardroom (in between bouts as Batman’s Q) and Gary Oldman still reeling from the events in the previous movie, the other major supporting roles also go to franchise newcomers. Despite a somewhat lacklustre introduction, Tom Hardy makes a huge impression as the series’ resident juggernaut Bane, even if his voicework does verge at times on Bale-level incomprehensibility. More than a match for Ledger’s Joker (and infinitely more memorable than Liam Neeson’s mystic ninja), Bane’s scenes with Batman are some of the best in the film, their first confrontation in particular proving perhaps the most exciting in the series. Joseph Gordon-Levitt impresses too, the character of John Blake enjoying the most satisfying and rounded arc the whole saga has had to offer.
Unfortunately, even the novelty of likeable characters, emotional investment and genuine spectacle is not enough to offset the film’s many failures. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s screenplay is all over the place, the narrative misshapen and the pace inconsistent as the brothers attempt to not only homage the characters’ past and pursue a suitably climactic conclusion but also pander to their various aspirations and pretensions. In part based on Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, the basic through-line threatens – and occasionally does – get lost in the tangle of pointless plot points tacked on to give superfluous characters something to do. I counted at least three additions that could – and should – have been left out altogether, a last act development in particular only serving to delay the epic – and I mean genuinely epic – finale.
But this is still the best in the trilogy, with the truly outstanding final moments coming very close to justifying the previous eight hours of relative tedium. (That boat scene in TDK. Oh my God.) Benefiting from an increase in humour, warmth and humanity, The Dark Knight Rises is almost as emotionally engaging as it is intellectually stimulating. Admittedly, it’s the franchise’s future that excites me much more than its immediate past, but you must nevertheless champion Christopher Nolan for bringing the series to such a satisfying conclusion. He may have ended it very much on his own terms, but it’s what he’s left for any potential successor that most justifies the fanfare.